THE SHORT STORIES OF ZAKARIA TAMER
No, that is not true. Everyone is entitled to write what he wishes to write, without necessarily being able to publish it. Since 1963 no one has dictated to me what to write. I mean no one has told me to write about this or that topic. There are some who write in praise of their rulers and say they were coerced into doing so or wrote under pressure, but what they say are obvious lies, for they chose the flattery and fawning as a means of protecting their personal affairs and lining their pockets.
As for the immunity you mention, there is no such immunity for any writer who gets close to addressing what is forbidden. In the 1970s, al-Maghut and I took turns writing a column for Teshreen newspaper. An order was issued by the President’s office to stop me writing in Syrian newspapers based on the claim that I had insulted the Shah of Iran and his wife; and in the 1980s I wrote an editorial for Al-Ma’rifa magazine, published by the Ministry of Culture, and of which I was editor-in-chief. The article had been copied in toto from Abdulrahman al-Kawakibi’s book The Characteristics of Despotism. I chose sections from the book that were not well known that urged the rejection of submission. After delivering the article to the printing press I went to Beirut to take care of some business and when I returned my wife told me: “Go back to where you came from. Syrian intelligence is looking for you, you have been dismissed from your job, and they have confiscated what was left of the magazine from the stores.” Al-Ma’rifa (Knowledge) magazine used to sell about 7,000 copies, but the intelligence people retrieved only about 300 copies.
• Zakaria the editor
I imagine that 7,000 is a relatively large number for a cultural magazine relative to the numbers we have these days. I remember you told me that Osama magazine used to sell 18,000 copies, and when you took control it started to sell 45,000 copies. What was the secret? What has changed?
What has changed today is that the people in charge of cultural podiums are not competent and they are not sincere about their profession, while those working on the cultural pages in the 1960s were proud of what they did. They used to boast about being the
130 BANIPAL 53 – SUMMER 2015